10 Ways To Survive Lockdown

Lockdown This is a difficult and unprecedented time for everyone in the world. There are no blueprints, no historical precedents on this scale to help us. Whilst we struggle to come to terms with a global pandemic, it is impossible to explain to our dogs why their world has suddenly shrunk and changed beyond all recognition.

There are some things that we can do to help them adjust and to make our lives a little less stressful whilst abiding by government advice and obligations and remaining safe.

1 Stimulation is as important for dogs as exercise. Find novel ways to keep your dog’s mind occupied, especially if exercise is limited

2 Now is the time to start or improve training. 5-15 minutes per day of non-aversive, positive training will work wonders

3 Use a lead and a long line when your dog is in public. Even if your recall is brilliant, that doesn’t apply to other dogs and it is imperative that you do not get into a situation that would make it impossible to keep at least six feet away from other people

4 Maintain a routine. Predictability helps dogs to feel secure even if it is different to your normal routine

5 Keep toys limited to two different types and swap them over periodically so that your dog does not become bored

6 Make sure that your dog has a safe, quiet place and can choose to go there, especially if your house is fuller and noisier than normal

7 Limit and control access that children have to your dog so that extra time at home does not mean extra pressure and stress for your dog

8 Take extra care to keep your dog safe from household poisons, toxic garden plants and dangerous food

9 If you have new puppy, find inventive ways to continue socialisation: use sound tapes, wear a variety of different clothes, create lots of different surfaces to walk on etc

10 Keep it fun: keep it safe.

Contact DogsNet to obtain a unique COVID-19 Survival Guide

Worried about whether your dog or cat could catch COVID-19?

There have been reports in the press that two dogs and one cat have tested positive for COVID-19. Companion animals act as fomites – a surface on which COVID-19 can settle and be transferred via direct contact. Current advice is that following the correct hand washing technique should help to protect you and your animals from infection.

A new study published by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences has found that dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks transmit the virus poorly, but that ferrets and cats transmit it much more effectively. The cats in the study passed the virus to other cats in close proximity through aerosol transmission.

Ferret and cats owners in particular should therefore be very careful to limit close contact and observe the recommended hygiene procedures.

No Parking

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to bite in the UK with what seems like the beginning of the wave of infections, many dog owners must be very worried about how they will keep their dogs exercised and happy over the coming days and weeks, and perhaps months.

Not every dog owner has a garden and many have very small spaces, perhaps not even with grass. The National Trust, Royal Parks and many local authority parks have already closed gated green spaces and some car parks.

Government advice at time of writing is that one outing a day is permitted to exercise, including walking dogs.

It should be obvious that ensuring one’s own safety as well as that of other people is of the utmost urgency, but the behaviour of many people over the last weekend beggared belief.

Please remember the importance of keeping your dog mentally stimulated and, whilst physical activity outdoors may be limited, keep up and even enhance your training regime, play brain games and keep your dog challenged mentally.

Keep your distance from other people while out walking and take bio-security precautions if you are helping with a dog belonging to someone who is symptomatic or ill.

Keep well, keep safe, keep stimulated!

Larking In The Park

dog park There has been much fuss recently over a New York Times article pointing out the negative impact of dog parks which has now been picked up the BBC in their Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours for two days running.

The situation in many US states is rather different to that pertaining in the UK where, in spite of access problems in some areas, restrictions on dogs are not quite so widespread. Michigan and Pennsylvania have state-wide “leash laws” that require owners to keep dogs on leads when off their one premises, although challenges have been raised via case law in Pennsylvania where the intent of the law was clarified to be about prevention of roaming other then preventing off-lead exercise.
Several other states prohibit dogs from being off-lead in public parks which had led to the development of the “dog park”: an enclosed area where dogs are permitted off lead. Many mandate that dogs are kept on lead in areas inhabited by livestock or wildlife.

As in the UK, dog-friendly areas vary greatly from small, sterile, parasite-ridden spaces to reasonably large areas. Urban owners are often far better served by varied dog-friendly areas to let their dogs run the owners in the countryside and the density of the dog population is higher.

As ever, the real problem is that owners do not understand their dog’s requirements for stimulation and training and far too many owners purchase dogs and then outsource their care to unqualified, incompetent walkers. The chaos that this has caused in many parks with large numbers of out of control dogs causing havoc and often being abused by their handlers led to many local authorities imposing restrictions on the number of dogs that can be walked at any one time. This in turn led to walkers going out in pairs or groups and further problems led to bans.

Many dogs are now taken out of town, with farmers hiring out fields. Far from solving problems, they continue even further away from owners and are also a poor use of agricultural land.

So are “dog parks” bad?

Well, quality off-lead stimulation and exercise is always good even if the space in which it occurs is not ideal, but how much better would it be if owners would refrain from getting a dog when they don’t have enough time or the inclination to undertake the majority of their care, if dog walkers where trained and regulated and if dogs were so well-adjusted and trained that they could be taken anywhere without fear of incident.

Leave Boot Camp To The Army

An increasing number of services are being offered to dog owners that effectively mean that they contract out most of their ownership.

At work all day?
Hire a dog walker.

Can’t be asked to clean or groom your own dog?
Hire a groomer.

Got no recall?
Stick a GPS on your dog.

Suddenly find that what seemed cute in a puppy is a serious nuisance in an adult dog?
Send your dog away to boot camp.

Dogs are expensive so most owners will need to work and some will hire a dog walker or day care. This still leaves 24% of dogs in the UK (2.1 million dogs) alone for more than five hours on a typical weekday. At the moment, dog walkers are unregulated. How many owners check that their walker is even competent, let alone insured? How many owners putting their dog in day care have checked that the day care provider is complying with the law? How many don’t want to know because all they care about is the convenience? Even when day care providers and walkers have been proven to be abusing dogs and causing injury and even death, owners are loath to prosecute.

Owners profess to love their dog but many can’t be bothered to wield a grooming brush. At best, dogs are hosed down frequently putting their skin and coat at risk. At worst they are left until the owner can’t stand it anymore and then taken to a groomer. Groomers are not regulated by legislation and again, few owners will bother to find out if they have any professional credentials such as membership of the British Dog Groomers’ Association or hold a City & Guilds Certificate for Dog Grooming. Handling techniques are frequently aversive and far too many groomers are shaving coats that should never be cut.

Few owners know how to identify signs of stress in their dogs and monitoring a dog using a camera or sticking a GPS tracker on its collar are no substitute for human company, proper consideration of welfare or only letting a dog off lead when it is safe and the dog has reliable recall. Plonking a treat or a ball dispenser down for five hours is not a solution either.

In 2018, only 20% of dogs ever attended a training course with 3% of those dropping out before the course was complete. Again owners don’t always check that trainers are registered with professional bodies and that is not always a guarantee that the trainer is abiding by the guidelines. Two trainers in my area, both of whom who have been members of the APDT for decades, use aversive methods on dogs and, for that matter, are pretty rude to owners.

78% of owners state that they would like to change at least one behaviour displayed by their dog. 26% complained about pulling on the lead, 25% of dogs are afraid of fireworks, 22% jump up at people, 6% show aggression to other pets and 4% aggression towards people.

Many of these owners are choosing to send their dogs away to residential training. Owners learn nothing and dogs don’t get to work with the person with whom they live. “Trainers” are laughing all the way to the bank. There are no guarantees that decent welfare standards will apply: the designation “boot camp” says it all. It is possible to teach owners an awful lot over the course of a week or two. Three 1-5 minutes sessions a day for their dog, conducted using the right techniques can work wonders very quickly when backed up with a consistent approach in a variety of circumstances. Training without owners being present can never offer that.

It is not possible to assess how many dogs suffer and how much, some by just being wrenched from all they know and handled by strangers. No doubt many owners are delighted by what they see as a quiet dog when the dog is actually traumatised. A short while later, the unwanted behaviours will return and maybe in even more extreme forms.

Sometimes it ends in downright tragedy. An owner in California was awarded $60,000 when her German Shepherd died when at a remote “training” facility. The dog died from hyperthermia – he overheated. Other dogs in the facility were later found to have been deprived of food, water and adequate shelter. The location was not where the German Shepherd’s owner had been told the dog would be trained. The “trainer” declined to appear in court or answer the complaint, but stated that he plans to appeal against the judgement and that he is not to blame for the dog’s death in spite of being found guilty of eight counts of animal cruelty.

Even if the owner gets some financial redress – and the judge made an award that took into account the distress as well as the monetary value of the dog – nothing will bring her dog back or ameliorate the animals’ suffering.

Last year, a London-based “trainer” won a case in the High Court when an owner complained that her dog’s behaviour had worsened after being “put through a two-week intensive boot camp” at a cost of £2,800. The judge ruled that “To suggest that, after 14 days, any previous behavioural issues would be, as it were, permanently gone forever is unreal. That would ignore the fact that we are not dealing with a machine here, but a puppy. Puppies behave in particular ways and training is always intended to achieve certain results, but those results are not guaranteed”.

It’s a pity that the judge did not go on to add that it is the owners that need educating – the dogs will follow.

The 71 year old owner had complained that her puppy was “out of control” and running riot in her one-bedroomed flat, biting and jumping up at her owner. Sounds like a normal puppy to me and one that needed a lot more stimulation than was provided by the sound of it.

Neither trainer nor owner come out of this well, although both are clearly sufficiently wealthy to have pursued the case as far as the High Court. What a pity the money was not spent on educating the owner to train the dog herself alongside a suitably qualified trainer. It is not recorded whether the unrealistic owner re-homed her dog.

Shocking Stance of CA – Literally

It was with horror that I read the news release from the Countryside Alliance which supports the use of shock collars and makes erroneous connections between the type of electric fencing used to confine cats and dogs with that used to confine livestock.

Comments from Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the CA include stating that the issue does “not seem like an issue to die in a ditch about” and that the motive behind the proposal to ban shock collars in England is for “the sake of a few headlines and tweets”. he then goes on to suggest that it could lead to “more cats and dogs being euthanased and placed in danger”. He then erroneously equates shock collars and electic boundary fences used in conjunction with shock collars with electric fences widely used to protect livestock.

The CA could take a lead in promoting non-adversive training which many of its members use to train dogs for the field, but instead is now allying itself with the animal abuse which many of its detractors have accused it (erroneously) in the past.

It is not too late for the CA to admit that they are in the wrong here. If you feel strongly and/or train your dog for the field using non-aversive methods, contact them today.

The consultation on the proposed ban on electonic shock collars closes on April 27th, 2018 so there is still time to have your say.

Click here to read the response from CReDO and DogsNet.

Scotland Sees Sense – Now Come On England

After an outcry when Scotland effectively considered creating a “qualification” in administering electric shocks to dogs in the name of training, MSPs have backtracked and Scotland has issued draft guidance with the aim of advising against the use of shock collars.

Whilst an outright ban would have been preferable, this is still good news for the approximately 820,000 dogs in Scotland and the approximately 590,000 dogs in Wales that are already protected by a ban. The approximately 7.5 million dogs in England and the six counties of Northern Ireland are still waiting.

Of course, even a UK ban would on be the tip of the iceberg in preventing punishment being meted out to dogs on a daily basis by ignorant owners and “trainers”. It would be a great start though.

Shocking Decision from Scotland

Maurice Golden MSP, a long-time supporter of the campaign to have electric shock collars banned, said: “Electric shock collars are harmful and have no place in modern dog training. The advice from academia, dog behaviourists and trainers is clear – electrocuting dogs does not help train them.

Scotland could have joined Wales where there is a ban in leading the way in welfare but instead has effectively promoted abuse that is lietrally and figuratively shocking.

Sign the petition to ban shock collars in the UK: https://www.change.org/p/the-scottish-government-ban-electric-shock-collars-in-scotland

In November 2016, the Scottish Government published a consultation on potential controls or prohibition of electronic shock devices in Scotland covering collars and fences and sound, vibration and spray collars. Four proposals were adviocated: retain the unregulated status quo; develop guidance or a statutory welfare code; develop regulations on the use of electronic collars and ban the use of electronic collars. 1,032 responses were received:

60% were from Scotland and 26% from the remainder of the UK. 64% were from companion animal owners, 13% from trainers, 7% from the general public, 4% from animal welfare professionals, 4% from behaviourists, 3% from veterinary staff, 2% from owners of working dogs and 1% from animal care professinals. Unsurprisingly, animal care and animal welfare respondents were opposed to the use of electronic devices: pet suppliers and owners of working dogs were supportive. Owners were fairly evenly divided.

Again unsusprisingly, professionals involved in welfare cited learning theory and scientific evidence in support of the ineffectiveness of the devices, not to mention the cruelty, whilst supporters relied largely on their own perceptions of how the devices worked. 3 in 10 reposndents complained that their business would be
affected by a ban or stricter regulations on static pulse collars. However “The most frequently identified possible effect was dealing with fewer animals
suffering from the negative effects of having been trained with an electronic training aid”. An interesting result given the relatively small number of behaviourists responding.

Scotland however has decided not to ban the use of aversive collars but to introduce regulations that would include a new qualification for up to 100 dog trainers across the country to enable them to promote and use shock collars on dogs. The UKKC state that “…the Scottish Government has been meeting with the Electric Shock Collars Manufacturers Association and dog trainers in Scotland who currently use shock collars, yet has not had any meetings with any of the professional dog training associations who oppose the use of electric training devices”.

There is no legislation in Scotland regarding the manufacture of electronic devices. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also undertook research into the use of electric shock collars in dog training (Cooper et al 2010a and Cooper et al 2010b). The authors conducted an internet search in 2007 and discovered more than 170 different models of e-collars available for purchase in the UK. New collars were bought online and one was found to be counterfeit. It was included in the survey because “…as it is obtainable in the UK and was possibly attractive due to its low price”. The collars had up to four functions controlled from a radio control handset: a tone signal, a vibration signal, a short electrical stimulus lasting between 4 and 500mS, and a continuous stimulus lasting for as long as the appropriate button on the controller is pressed, but usually time-limited. The energy dissipated by the e-collars when set to their most powerful level was found to be 81 times greater than that dissipated with the e-collars set to their least powerful level. The electrical output of the e-collars depended on the impedance presented by the dogs’ neck and differed according to whether the dog was wet or dry. “There were considerable differences between tested e-collar models in the voltages, the number of pulses in, and length of each stimulus, but little variation within individual models of e-collars. The peak voltage delivered by e-collars varied significantly with the resistance of the dog, from as much as 6000V at 500kΩ to 100V at 5kΩ”.

The collars are sold with manuals but, the study found that although collar operation was explained clearly, information on using the e-collar in training varied widely. Some suggested using the e-collar before introducing a command, some advised never to use a command and others advised it in specific circumstances. Most advice suggested application of continuous stimuli until the dog showed the desired response. There was little advice on when the momentary stimulus could be used and manuals advocated training at the perception threshold or above. One manual advised the owner to start “at least in the middle of the intensity range” for “serious” unwanted behaviour such as chasing livestock. “Behavioural signs indicative of the appropriate level ranged from the expression of specific behaviours such as attention redirection, to ‘outward signs of discomfort or confusion’. The latter is ambiguous and may be interpreted by inexperienced users as also including behaviours which occur at a high level of stimulation”. Only three manuals mentioned that if the dog vocalises when the collar is used, the level is too high. A follow-up questionnaire completed by owners showed that “Advice in manuals was not always taken up by end-users…”

The authors concluded that the “…project has highlighted the very variable outcomes between individual dogs when trained using e-collars…The combination of
differences in individual dogs’ perception of stimuli, different stimulus strength and characteristics from collars of different brands, differences between momentary and continuous stimuli, differences between training advice in manuals, differences in owner understanding of training approaches and how owners use the devices in a range of different circumstances are likely to lead to a wide range of training experiences for pet dogs…Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that the previous use of e-collars in training is associated with behavioural and physiological responses that are consistent with negative emotional states.

The use of e-collars in training dogs has been proven to lead to a negative impact on welfare. Stress as measured by cortisol levels, was higher at a baseline level in dogs trained using an e-collar suggesting, as with Schilder’s and van der Borg’s study (2004), that stress remained high even when the electric collar was not in use.

A follow up study (Cooper et al 2010b) compared two groups of dogs trained by trainers from the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association, one with use of e-collars and one without, and a group trained by Association of Pet Dog Trainers members without aversive training of any kind. “In this context dogs showed responses to e-collar stimuli which were clearly discernible…and showed changes in behaviour and physiology that other studies have interpreted as indications of aversive arousal or anxiety…no trainers assessed the dog’s sensitivity to collars prior to training, either choosing a setting they expected to be effective, or checking that the collar was operational using a low but detectable setting, then choosing a pre-determined higher setting for association with sheep chasing”. Dogs in the APDT group “…engaged in more environmental interaction such as sniffing…were less often observed yawning…spent less time tense during training sessions…had their tail in a low position less often and …moved away from the trainer less often”. Dogs in the group trained using e-collars “…yelped more …and panted more…” than dogs in the other groups.

There has been no evaluation into the effects of use of shock collars by inexperienced people nor to the long-term effects in the animals subjected to shocking, for instance to evaluate the extent to which it damages the human-animal bond and/or results in learned helplessness. In a study (Schilder et al 2004) that compared groups of guard dogs trained using electric shock collars, the authors concluded “… that being trained is stressful, that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs, and that the S-dogs [shocked dogs] evidently have learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces reception of shocks, even outside of the normal training context. This suggests that the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake, at least in the presence of their owner”.

This study was the first to look at long-term effects of shock collars in training and demonstrated clearly that the association made with the shock was linked with the handler. This makes for ineffective training because even if the dog makes an association with the undesirable behaviour occurring at the time that the shock is administered (which is totally dependent on the precision of the timing), it has also been demonstrated to be made also some time afterwards with the handler. There is every possibility that this could result in learned helplessness on the part of the dog, robbing it of all mechanisms of self-preservation when it is expected to work in life-threatening situations or at least ones where the prospect of injury is much higher than with a companion dog.

So the very person that the dog should be able to trust and who should guide him through training is clearly associated with fear, pain and punishment, none of which are conducive to learning.

Using punishment of any sort – throwing metal rings at dogs, puffing air or water in their faces, jerking leads and shouting – not only stop the dog from learnign and damage the relationship between handler and dog, they are useless for teaching alternative behaviour. In fact, evidence shows that they create even more unwanted behaviours, including serious redirected aggression.

Cooper J et al (2010a) Effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems, on the welfare of domestic dogs, DEFRA Research AW1402 [accessed online 16/8/2017 http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=11167_AW1402SID5FinalReport.pdf]

Cooper J et al (2010b) Studies to assess the effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems on the welfare of domestic dogs; field study of dogs in training, DEFRA Research AW1402A [accessed online 16/8/2017 http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=11168_AW1402aSID5FinalReport.pdf]

Schilder MBH et al (2004) Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, V85(3–4), pp 319-334

Idiot of the Month Update

A few months ago I wrote about a rescue dog that was being handled badly.

Owner and dog are still together and, as dogs often do, this lovely girl is muddling through in spite of the way that she is being treated. The owner has shaved her coat off so she now has no protection against the elements and her once-beautiful coat is now growing back as spikes. No doubt the owner is congratulating herself that the dog felt cooler in the recent hot weather and of course, she no longer has a coat that can be groomed.

In common with many rescue dogs, she seems to be enjoying a late-flowering puppyhood and was having a wonderful time romping round with my dog and the others on the lawn. She flung herself at his feet and happily kicked his face as he nuzzled her belly and mouthed her affectionately, growling softly. The other owners looked on in delight, with the exception of the owner of the rescue dog.

She was squirming in horror and covering her eyes as the dogs took it in turns to rough house. “Stop it, stop it: I can’t bear it. I don’t like to see them like this”, she said. I replied tartly that her dog didn’t seem to share her view and was in fact having a whale of a time. Faced with the pressure of other quiescent owners, she backed off and let the dogs have their fill of fun.

What a sad example of a human-dog dyad. Perhaps there is something very wrong in her life that makes her incapable of recognising her dog’s enjoyment. She no longer has the excuse that her dog is old and ill, but she seems hell bent on squeezing the joy out of her glorious young dog and, in the meantime, is oblivious to all the truly wonderful moments that dog ownership can bring.

As ever, it will be the dog that suffers most in the long run.

I Hope That Bad Owners Don’t Come In Threes

My poor dog hasn’t had too good a time of it in the last few days. First we encountered a dog running loose in the park, owner nowhere in sight. It wasn’t until after he had happily played with my dog that I realised that his eyes were oozing with a green discharge.

Yep, conjunctivitis. I eventually caught up with the owner who casually remarked that he had been “Meaning to do something about it”. Somehow refrained from adding “What? Infect as many other dogs as you can before you consider that your dog might not be very comfortable and his eyesight might even be compromised if you leave it any longer?”

So much for the Animal Welfare Act.

Half way through a week of chloramphenicol tid, he was attacked by a seriously aggressive boxer that actually pursued him when he had moved away. OK, that was annoying. What made me really mad was that the owner admitted that she knows that her dog is aggressive and had done nothing about it. Needless to say, the dog is uncastrated. She did proceed to hit it and shout at it. Miraculously, the dog didn’t turn on her – this time. She was a polite woman who was in total denial about her dog and, even though she knew that she had little control, still let it run loose in the park, unmuzzled.

Warning other owners on the way out of the park, I discovered that they all knew exactly which dog I meant as every one of them had either had a problem or witnessed the dog attacking other dogs. So had the park warden.

No serious damage done this time, but it remains to be seen if the dog wardens from the two boroughs that run the park will follow it up.

A Thousand Little Insults

tight-lead I was walking alongside a local common this weekend, as it happens, without my dog. I noticed, coming towards me from the opposite direction, a woman walking a Cavalier King Charles spaniel on an extendable lead. The dog was several feet ahead of the woman and, as she got nearer, she let it veer across to the other side of the path to carry on sniffing. This meant that about 10 feet of lead was stretched across the path about a foot from the ground.

When she got to within a foot or two of me, the woman suddenly jerked the dog by the neck and, without reeling in the lead, hauled it across the path, simpering at me to show how considerate she had been.

The dog was extremely startled and, needless to say, the woman oblivious to its feelings.

I wondered how many times that this woman inflicts this treatment on her dog. Then I wondered how many owners are meting out exactly the same treatment to their dogs, day after day.

This week most right-thinking people would have been outraged by the thug who throttled his Staffy, booted his head and then swung him against the side of a train carriage. There is a petition to ask the prime minister to intervene and increase his sentence from a meagre 21 weeks. Punishment alone is unlikely to change his behaviour but this does seem a pretty feeble reaction from the judiciary who no doubt would have imposed a much tougher sentence had it been a child. The poor dog died three days later.

It is easy to feel outraged by blatent cruelty such as this, but most people are oblivious to the daily cruelty that they inflict on their dogs, choking them, shouting at them or just being mostly cross. Not training a dog to walk properly on the lead (or to cope with the environment in which they are forced to live) and lazily using gadgets such as flexi-leads, halters and headcollars in lieu of their own lack of input inflicts constant, continuous insults on dogs and damages their trust in the very people that no doubt, declaim their “love” for their pet.

Which is worse: a sudden, voilent assault or constant daily battery? Not much of a choice is it.